Thursday, April 9, 2009

Necropath by Eric Brown

necropathIn the short time since its creation, Solaris Books has really impressed me, both with their authors and with their Solaris Book of New Science Fiction anthology series.  It was through the latter that I first became aware of English science fiction author Eric Brown. Necropath is the first book in a planned three-books series, to be followed by Xenopath and Cosmopath.  However, it is a self-contained story in itself.

Bengal Station is a huge spaceport in the sea between India and Burma, the entry point to Earth for the faster-than-light ships linking Earth to her colonies, and to alien civilizations beyond.  Its tremendous volume is home to millions of people, ranging from the richest to the poorest.  Jeff Vaughan is a telepath employed at the station, using his powers to help inspect incoming ships.  He is a tormented man, plagued by his memories of the past, dependent on drugs to help him shut out the endless roar of other people’s thoughts, and utterly without hope.

Strange events are taking place at Bengel Station.  Mysterious shipments are arriving from offworld, shipments Vaughn’s mind-shielded boss has forbidden him to inspect.  A series of men involved in space exploration in their younger days are mysteriously murdered.  A bizarre cult with origins beyond Earth is growing on the station, offering a mind-altering “communion” and promising to make all people one with their God.

Vaughn’s search for the truth behind these events takes him through the depths of Bengal Station, and will eventually lead him from Earth to one of humanity’s new settlements among the stars.  He faces corruption and betrayal among his colleagues, a mysterious figure hell-bent on hunting him down and killing him, and his own fear and despair accumulated from a past spent exposed to things no one should see.  Finally, he will face the force behind the disturbing events on Bengal Station- something far more horrible than a mere criminal conspiracy.

I liked Necropath quite a bit.  The central mystery develops well and becomes increasingly eerie as it progresses.  Jeff Vaughn is an interesting protagonist, and Brown does a nice job of putting a different spin on the much-used idea of a hero with a grim past.  Bengal Station itself is a great environment for a story, and its close juxtaposition of astonishing futuristic technology and desperate Third World poverty is striking.

While Necropath is largely a thriller/mystery story, it has a strong element of horror, and had a number of elements that made me think of H.P. Lovecraft- bizarre and cruelly uncaring intelligences, communities that conceal horrifying secrets, local people with stories of incomprehensible horrors, and knowledge so disturbing that brushing up against it is psychologically damaging.  Parts of the book are quite creepy, and the buildup to Vaughn’s discovery of the truth is effectively chilling.  I liked the way the horror, mystery, and science fiction elements of the book mesh.  The horrific elements are not merely grafted onto a science fiction base- rather, they are directly integrated with the science fiction and would not be possible outside that context.

I liked the book’s use of the idea of telepathy- some people have a natural affinity for it, but artificial augmentation is necessary to make the potential useful.  Especially intriguing- and feeding nicely into what I said about the horror element- is the idea of using telepathy on the recently dead, searching through a person’s thoughts for information as their nervous system sputters out.  This is portrayed as suitably disturbing, both to the reader and to the unfortunate telepath who has to feel the disintegration of another person’s self in the most intimate way possible.

I would recommend Necropath for any science fiction fan who enjoys elements of mystery or horror in their stories, and I look forward to Xenopath.  Telepathy doesn’t seem to appear in science fiction nearly as much as it used to, and I enjoyed Brown’s take on this venerable trope.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

1 comment:

Links and Things « Enter the Octopus said...

[...] Review of “Necropath” by Eric Brown (I’d like to read this) [...]